2012, Bristol, UK
If I said “it’s been raining”, presumably readers in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania would sniff and roll their eyes, disdaining the obvious “you live in Britain and you’re telling us it’s raining? You’ll be revealing next that the Pope’s Catholic I suppose?” as they yawn and reach for the mouse. And I’d reply “No, really, REALLY raining”.
This green and pleasant land is only green and pleasant at the same time when the rain washing across the drowning countryside has had enough time to seep away and make the grass grow, not to mention the sun being given a sporting chance of making an appearance.
I don’t really mind a bit of rain, apart from the consequent muddy state of the house, the constant demands from a pair of drenched four footed felines who discovered early on that we (saps that we are) were keen to wipe them down, rub them dry and give them biscuits, just to hear them purr contentedly for five minutes; swiftly followed by a secret signal between them when they would saunter casually to the door, tails high in the air, and mew pleadingly to be let out again. To know what would happen ten minutes later, see above. What a wheeze they work on us. Our roles as porters, slaves and handmaidens are never more evident than when it’s raining.
As I was saying, I don’t really mind a bit of rain, as long as I’m inside, or running from one covered area to another where the bit in between is no more than a few metres, but last week the whole thing became ridiculous, and the normal people who inhabit the city where I live turned into angry and intolerant monsters.
At first it was calming to hear the rain drumming down on the conservatory roof; then it became less calming as the water started to leak into the conservatory and onto the cat litter, of which the users took a very dim view. There had been no time between squalls to cut the grass in the front garden or to trim the fuchsia on the flagstone path, so getting out of the house to get into the car parked on the drive involved either squelching through the ankle-length grass or opting for the path and swishing by the saturated branches which wet you as you pushed past them and spat back at you as they flicked back. Either way I was going to get wet.
The road that leads from the village to the motorway has charming ups and downs, but at the moment the downs have been not so much charming as flooded. On one particular day, I passed drains jetting fountains of water up into the air as I reached the first flooded area with worried cars hovering at either end. I thought No Problem; my brain went into all-Argentines-know-how-to-cope-with-floods mode: go slowly in second gear, don’t stop on any account, hold your nerve and test your brakes when you get out.
This sensible attitude works well when you’re the only one in the water, even if the depth is over a foot, which this was. It is however rendered pointless in three sets of circumstances – firstly when aggressive (and unpopular) 4x4 vehicles at last have the opportunity to show the rest of us plebs that there ARE times when a 4x4 is the only car to have and we can shove our exasperation with mums that use them to drive children to school where the sun don’t shine; secondly when white van drivers rely on their instinct that the quicker you get through it by fanning sheets of water far and wide, the less likely it is that the lake will “realise” that you’re even there, and won’t have time to exact its revenge for disturbing it; and thirdly with very large lorries, who view you as an elephant would a mosquito, and are simply unaware of you.
Though lucky to escape the latter, on this occasion I had one in each direction of the first two, and the resultant wave of muddy brown water washed over my bonnet. The black (still) shiny 4x4 forged ahead of me through the next three lakes, and though I was within cautious distance, my car’s undercarriage received a high pressure wash each time.
But my car had survived intact and the brakes worked, so the 4x4 and I arrived together at the exit on to the motorway. I was listening to classical music on the radio so didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the 4x4 male driver had chosen the outer lane on the slip road, which merges before reaching the motorway. Presently I did notice that he was going to barge in ahead of me and the distance between me and the car in front would have meant my having to apply the brakes pretty firmly.
I don’t consider myself to be a feminist, but I won’t be taken for a mug, and I’m particularly allergic to testosterone at the wheel. I didn’t let up, and he was forced to tuck in behind me. In the rear view mirror I could see him waving his arms about, and in cartoon fashion tapping his temple with his forefinger and clearly mouthing statements about the possible unmarried state of my female ancestors.
Sorry folks, I gave in to temptation and the stress of the moment - I carefully raised the middle finger of my right hand, stuck it out of the window and jabbed it at him.
Mmm. As we splashed onto the motorway I saw that his anger was at boiling point and knew I was going to have to remain calm no matter what happened. And sure enough, for the next two miles he remained level with me, boxing me in and leaving me unable to overtake the slow cars ahead of me, as he weaved from side to side almost but not quite scraping me, and screamed, and shook his fist. I didn’t hear what he said, and though I couldn’t help but be aware of what he was doing, I looked stony-faced at the road ahead of me and didn’t once glance at him. Eventually his anger spent itself; he put on a burst of speed and disappeared. I started to tremble a bit after that, and wondered if he had taken my registration number (I forgot to take his just in case).
The classical music helped a little, and then I came off the motorway and headed in my usual direction across town to the hospital, my place of work. I didn’t see him again, but I admit I feared it. As I approached the hospital I turned off the radio, and when I braked at traffic lights I realised I wasn’t going to get away scot-free from the flooded roads. There was a heavy sloshing sound under my seat, as if there was a child’s paddling pool full to the brim under there. Also when I started off, and when I turned corners. Other cars could hear it. It took several days to drain naturally, but I’m expecting the undercarriage to suddenly drop off in a heap of rust and leave me sitting in the middle of the road.
The monsoon continues. The traffic is very heavy on the bad days and people drive like idiots. Our tolerance levels are way down. How must other people cope in other parts of the world where there are floods every year?
I don’t write about what I don’t know first or at least second hand, so I can only imagine what it must be like for – say – the people of Bangladesh, to whom floods mean misery and tragedy. I can only tell you about what I know, and in the next post I’ll tell you what it was like for my mother and her family in the nineteen twenties and thirties in the hinterland of Argentina, and how my sister coped with a flash flood in Buenos Aires in the early eighties. Stay tuned!
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive
These first two were taken at Glastonbury Abbey, in Somerset
These four were taken in the village of Laycock, Wiltshire,
preserved as it was in the 18th century without visible cables
or wires, and therefore much beloved by period film-makers.
I believe Pride & Prejudice was filmed here.